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B'WAY SIZZLES AS ROAD IMPLODES.

Here's the logline: Boffo year. Broadway entered the new century on a mild upswing, as the 1999-2000 season closed on May 28 with a pretty figure on the bottom line. Total receipts were up for the ninth season in a row, rising to a record-setting $602,596,528.

That's the good news.

The bad requires greater elaboration. To begin with, that admittedly rosy total marked a wee 2.46% increase over last year's number, the second year in a row in which the percentage increase has shrunk. It was 5.5% last season, 11.6% the year before.

And there are plenty of other indications that Broadway's '90s boom is abating. While grosses and playing weeks (1,452) rose, attendance fell off this season, only the second time that's occurred since the 1990-91 season. It wasn't a major drop: The figure slid by a small 2.07%, declining to 11,365,309, but the discrepancy between the climbing grosses and the receding attendance indicates pretty clearly what your average theatergoer could probably have told you him- or herself: Ticket prices are still on the rise. Last season the average Broadway ticket went for $53.02, an increase of $2.34, or 4.6%, over last season's $50.68.

As usual, shows that managed to turn a profit during the season were the rare exception. By May 28, when the official closing bell rang, only three of the season's new commercial productions had recouped their capitalization, and two of those were essentially solo shows: Barry Humphries' "Dame Edna: The Royal Tour" and "Jackie Mason: Much Ado About Everything." The third to make it to profitability was the Philip Seymour Hoffman/John C. Reilly starrer "True West," unquestionably the hottest ticket of the Broadway season and a show whose hip audiences indicated that the right talents matched with the right property can woo even Generations X Y and Z away from the multiplexes.

Among holdovers from last season, "Annie Get Your Gun," "Death of a Salesman" and "Fosse" entered the winners' circle, while such acclaimed shows as "The Weir" and "Closer" and big-ticket items like "Ragtime" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel" entered the books as flops -- strictly defined as shows that have not recouped during the Broadway run, regardless of future touring or ancillary income possibilities. The flop count for this season's productions reached 12 by the end of the season. ("The Green Bird" joined the crop when it shuttered on June 4.)

Perhaps the most disturbing development was the free-falling figure from the Broadway road. The road total for the season declined by a whopping $126,875,151 million, to $584,537,459 million. That was an astounding 17.8% drop. Added to last year's 10.4% slide, the road is thus off by almost a third in the last two seasons. The combined total grosses for Broadway and the road clocked in at $1,187,133,987, an 8.6% drop from last year, which was itself off 3.8% from the year before. (Last season's decline was the first in more than a decade.)

To borrow the Wall Street phraseology that has infected everyday vocabulary, is the road experiencing a crash or a correction? The Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh money spinners of the 1980s and early 1990s -- "Cats," "Les Miserables," "Miss Saigon," "The Phantom of the Opera" -- may soon come to be regarded as a temporary anomaly that gave the road a glorious boost for a decade or so, rather than a phenomenon that permanently expanded the audience for road shows. (This season is the first since the 1988-89 frame in which the road total is less than the Broadway total.)

The road season was marked by a slew of weak or moderate performers -- shows like "Martin Guerre," "The Civil War," "Footloose," "Jekyll & Hyde," "Titanic" and the last legs of the "Ragtime" tour(s). Many had big weeks in some cities, bombs in others. The revival of "Chicago" continued to pull decent grosses, the "Riverdance" phenomenon continued more or less unabated, and the remaining companies of the Lloyd Webber/Mack fleet remained stellar. But the road, awash in spanking new theaters inspired by the prior boom, is still starving for product, and there's no "Lion King" tour in sight.

Maybe it was just millennial fever, but the season seemed to be packed with disquieting suggestions that the ground underneath Broadway is undergoing some seismic shifting. The turn-of-the-century frenzy arrived midway through the season and seriously discomposed the New Year's Eve week, traditionally the biggest frame of the season (that title went to the season's busy spring, during which, at one point, every eligible Broadway house had a tenant).

Then, on Feb. 20, it was announced that "Cats," the longest-running show in Broadway history, would be now and forever no more. The Lloyd Webber musical, which has been in residency at the Winter Garden for almost two decades, set a closing date of June 25, only to push the date back to Sept. 10 when the news set off a frenzy of ticket-buying, boosting the show's grosses by a couple hundred thousand dollars a week.

"Miss Saigon" was the next to call it quits, with the Alain Boublil/Claude-Michel Schonberg musical announcing that the famed helicopter would descend for the last time on Dec. 31.

End of an era

If the waning of the Lloyd Webber/Mackintosh influence on Broadway -- accented by the somewhat surprising flop of Mackintosh's newest production, the Stephen Sondheim revue "Putting It Together" -- was the most concrete indication that an era was at an end, it wasn't the only symbol of a changed legit landscape. Another, earlier Broadway era seemed to make a final exit with the deaths of David Merrick and Alexander H. Cohen, two indefatigable producers who were among the most prolific and successful in the Street's history. Cohen died in New York at 79 on April 22, with Merrick following, at 88, just three days later, on April 25.

Although Cohen and Merrick certainly had their share of enemies, they were both producers whose love of theater and the legit world always outstripped their regard for the bottom line. Cohen remained quixotic to the end, transferring his last production, this season's "Waiting in the Wings," from the Walter Kerr to the Eugene O'Neill, despite the show's mixed critical notices and middling box office. The show closed on the last day of the season, without recouping.

The heyday of Cohen and Merrick -- when big musicals could recoup in a season, and 300 performances was a long run -- is distant indeed today, as is the species of solo producer typified by those two showmen. The current season brought more evidence that the new era on Broadway is a distinctly corporate one.

Corporate influences -- brand-name shows ("Saturday Night Fever"), brand-names theaters (American Airlines), rebranded corporate entities (Hyperion Theatricals) -- were on the rise, as was the trend of producing by committee. Names above the title continue to proliferate in the pages of Playbill, with various producers -- Roger Berlind, Elizabeth Williams and Anita Waxman, Chase Mishkin, Ron Kastner -- having money in several productions each this season.

Still, irrespective of trends and portents, and despite the long odds against profitability, business continued at a brisk pace on Broadway this season. There were 35 new productions on the boards, a small decrease from last season's 39. Although the season's revivals garnered, on the whole, more attention and acclaim, new shows -- surprise! -- actually led the field. The season's 35 productions comprised 11 new plays (including the not-so-new "True West" and "Waiting in the Wings") and six play revivals; 10 new musicals and three revivals; and five shows Variety classifies as special engagements of one kind or another: "Dame Edna," "Tango Argentino," "Minnelli on Minnelli," "Jackie Mason: Much Ado About Everything" and "Squonk."

Even without the deaths of legendary producers or legendary musicals, the season was marked by its share of controversies. Was "Saturday Night Fever" as appalling as the critics said it was? (Yes -- and audiences for the once-hot show have slipped steadily over the season: During Week 52 it took in just $426,425 of a potential $901,190 at the Minskoff, playing to just 60.7% capacity.) Was Disney's "Aida" as appalling as the critics said it was? (Depends who you ask -- but audiences, so far, don't seem to agree: The show was the second-highest-grossing on Broadway during the final week of the season, behind only Disney's "Lion King.") Which of the season's two "Wild Party" musicals was better -- or worse? Was Patrick Stewart right to chastise his producers from the stage of the Ambassador Theater? (Actors' Equity said no, and the actor was forced to offer a written apology to the producers.) Finally, and most contentiously, is "Contact" a musical?

Musical chairs

The last question is moot as of June 5, the morning after the Tonys, but it stirred up plenty of angst in the months prior to the ceremony. The Broadway musicians' union objected to the Tony administrative committee's decision to call "Contact" a musical; critics' orgs were divided over the issue; a Tony nominating committee member resigned in protest.

If the show's detractors succeeded in their quest to nix a best-musical Tony for "Contact," it will have been a pyrrhic victory -- the most critically acclaimed new show of the season, and a hit with audiences, to boot, will have been marginalized in the eyes of the telecast audience, defeated on a technicality. Maybe the Tonys should call this long-running tempest-in-a-teapot the most deserving "special theatrical event" of the season, and give it a prize, too.

HITS

Dame Edna: The Royal Tour

Jackie Mason: Much Ado About Everything

True West

MAYBE

Aida

Copenhagen

Dirty Blonde

The Green Bird

Jesus Christ Superstar

Kiss Me Kate

A Moon for the Misbegotten

The Music Man

The Real Thing

The Ride Down Mt. Morgan

Riverdance--On Broadway

Saturday Night Fever

Swing!

Taller Than a Dwarf

The Wild Party

MISSES

Amadeus

Epic Proportions

James Joyce's The Dead

Kat and the Kings

Minnelli on Minnelli

The Price

Putting It Together

Squonk

Tango Argentino

Voices in the Dark

Waiting in the Wings

Wrong Mountain

HITS & FLOPS

In the list of 1999-00 Broadway productions below, "hit" is a show that recouped its capitalization during or by the end of its Broadway run, and "flop" is a show that did not recoup. Subsequent recoupment from touring or licensed productions is not included. Category designations are as follows:
(P)                              play
(M)                           musical
(R)                           revival
(Ret)               return engagement
(Rev)                           revue
(Sp)               special attraction
(sub)                    subscription
(*)     denotes show is still running


HITS (3)

Dame Edna: The Royal Tour (Sp)(*) Jackie Mason: Much Ado About Everything (Sp-So)(*) True West (P)(*)

FLOPS (12)

Amadeus (P-R) Epic Proportions (P) James Joyce's The Dead (M) Kat and the Kings (M) Minnelli on Minnelli (Sp) The Price (P-R) Putting It Together (M) Squonk (Sp) Tango Argentino (Sp) Voices in the Dark (P) Waiting in the Wings (P) Wrong Mountain (P)

STATUS UNDETERMINED (15)

Aida (M)(*) Copenhagen (P)(*) Dirty Blonde (P)(*) The Green Bird (P)(*) Jesus Christ Superstar (M-R)(*) Kiss Me Kate (M-R)(*) A Moon for the Misbegotten (P-R)(*) The Music Man (M-R)(*) The Real Thing (P-R)(*) The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (P)(*) Riverdance-On Broadway (M-Rev)(*) Saturday Night Fever (M)(*) Swing! (M)(*) Taller Than a Dwarf (P)(*) The Wild Party (M)(*)

NONPROFIT, MISCELLANEOUS (5)

Contact (M)(*) Marie Christine (M) The Rainmaker (P-R) Rose (P)(*) Uncle Vanya (P-R)(*)

HOLDOVERS FROM PREVIOUS SEASON

HITS (3)

Annie Get Your Gun (M-R)(*) Death of a Salesman (P-R) Fosse (M)(*)

FLOPS (10)

The Civil War (M) Closer (P) It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues (M) The Lonesome West (P) Not About Nightingales (P) Ragtime (M) The Scarlet Pimpernel (M) Side Man (P) The Sound of Music (M-R) You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (M-R) The Weir (P)

STATUS UNDETERMINED (3)

Footloose (M)(*) The Lion King (M)(*) Jekyll & Hyde (M)(*)
20 YEARS ON BROADWAY

              PLAYS           MUSICALS

Season    New   Revivals   New   Revivals

1999-00    11       6       10      3
1998-99    11       7       11      5
1997-98    10       9        9      3
1996-97    10      11        7      4
1995-96     8      13        7      4
1994-95     8      11        2      3
1993-94    12      10        6      7
1992-93     8      10        9      0
1991-92    15      10        7      3
1990-91    14       1        9      3
1989-90    15       5        9      5
1988-89    13       7        7      1
1987-88    11       3       14      3
1986-87    15      11       11      2
1985-86    12       9       11      1
1984-85    14       9        5      2
1983-84    14       7       11      4
1982-83    24       9       13      4
1981-82    24       4       12      4
1980-81    25       7       19      7

            Special     Return   Preopening
Season    attractions   shows      flops      Totals

1999-00        5          1          0          36
1998-99        4          1          0          39
1997-98        1          0          0          32
1996-97        6          0          0          38
1995-96        5          1          0          38
1994-95        3          2          0          29
1993-94        2          0          0          37
1992-93        4          2          1          33
1991-92       --          1          0          36
1990-91       --          1          0          28
1989-90       --          1          0          35
1988-89       --          1          0          29
1987-88       --          0          0          31
1986-87       --          0          0          39
1985-86       --          0          0          33
1984-85       --          1          0          31
1983-84       --          0          0          36
1982-83       --          0          0          50
1981-82       --          4          5          53
1980-81       --          2          7          67
ATTENDANCE & TICKET PRICES

            Average
Year      ticket price   Attendance

1999-00     $53.02       11,365,309
1998-99      50.68       11,605,278
1997-98      49.39       11,283,378
1996-97      48.40       10,318,217
1995-96      46.06        9,468,216
1994-95      44.92        9,044,763
1993-94      43.87        8,116,031
1992-93      41.71        7,856,727
1991-92      39.69        7,365,528
1990-91      36.53        7,314,138
1989-90      35.24        8,039,106
1988-89      32.88        7,968,273
1987-88      31.65        8,142,722
1986-87      29.74        6,968,277
1985-86      29.20        6,527,498
1984-85      29.06        7,156,683
1983-84      28.68        7,898,765
1982-83      25.07        8,102,262
1981-82      22.07       10,025,788
1980-81      17.97       10,822,324


Note: The listed average ticket prices represent the net received by managements after deductions of commissions, union pension funds and other items. The amounts paid by show-goers are estimated to be 10% higher than the above figures.
BROADWAY B.O. TOTALS

                             Total         Biggest
Season     B.O. Total    playing weeks   single week

1999-00   $602,596,528       1,452       $16,933,545
1998-99    588,126,585       1,440        17,271,539
1997-98    557,259,076       1,440        15,776,122
1996-97    499,400,898       1,346        13,926,935
1995-96    436,107,774       1,146        10,838,443
1994-95    406,306,661       1,117        11,646,663
1993-94    356,034,160       1,062         9,376,299
1992-93    327,721,442       1,018         8,832,099
1991-92    292,373,477         901         8,263,044
1990-91    267,244,915         970         7,432,625
1989-90    283,364,442       1,062         8,601,472
1988-89    262,072,510       1,097         7,179,392
1987-88    253,471,282       1,114         6,504,789
1986-87    207,239,749       1,031         5,483,530
1985-86    190,619,862       1,049         5,287,547
1984-85    208,006,181       1,062         5,624,629
1983-84    226,507,518       1,119         6,058,815
1982-83    203,126,127       1,259         5,864,669
1981-82    221,234,791       1,461         6,477,886
1980-81    194,481,091       1,545         4,886,970

          No. of shows   Week
Season     that week     ended

1999-00        36        4/23/00
1998-99        30        1/3/99
1997-98        32        1/4/98
1996-97        27        12/29/96
1995-96        28        5/19/96
1994-95        23        1/1/95
1993-94        21        1/2/94
1992-93        21        1/3/93
1991-92        28        4/26/92
1990-91        22        12/30/90
1989-90        24        12/31/89
1988-89        23        1/1/89
1987-88        21        1/3/88
1986-87        28        4/19/87
1985-86        23        12/29/85
1984-85        23        12/30/84
1983-84        23        1/1/84
1982-83        27        1/2/83
1981-82        31        1/3/82
1980-81        34        1/4/81

ROAD B.O. TOTALS

                             Total         Biggest
Season     B.O. Total    playing weeks   single week

1999-00   $584,537,459         959       $15,576,954
1998-99    711,412,610       1,147        17,629,203
1997-98    794,144,642       1,276        18,744,763
1996-97    752,905,827       1,352        18,221,448
1995-96    762,292,884       1,367        18,337,669
1994-95    694,577,296       1,312        16,588,495
1993-94    687,707,452       1,349        16,937,428
1992-93    620,598,184       1,368        16,282,863
1991-92    502,707,483       1,171        11,975,324
1990-91    450,179,272       1,152         9,929,299
1989-90    367,109,232         944         9,159,893
1988-89    255,527,012         869         6,662,784
1987-88    222,998,157         893         5,744,968
1986-87    224,287,315         901         5,276,589
1985-86    235,616,902         993         6,187,647
1984-85    225,959,429         993         6,219,536
1983-84    206,158,929       1,057         5,483,180
1982-83    184,321,475         990         5,082,658
1981-82    249,531,109       1,317         6,150,962
1980-81    218,921,935       1,343         5,396,998

          No. of shows   Week
Season     that week     ended

1999-00        23        1/16/00
1998-99        26        2/14/99
1997-98        26        4/15/98
1996-97        27        1/5/97
1995-96        27        1/14/96
1994-95        33        11/20/94
1993-94        30        1/2/94
1992-93        34        3/28/93
1991-92        25        7/21/91
1990-91        27        11/18/90
1989-90        21        1/28/90
1988-89        24        12/4/88
1987-88        24        3/6/88
1986-87        21        4/26/87
1985-86        23        3/16/86
1984-85        22        4/14/85
1983-84        25        4/8/84
1982-83        24        4/24/83
1981-82        30        3/14/82
1980-81        30        3/14/82

BROADWAY & ROAD COMBINED

                               Total         Biggest
Season      B.O. Total     playing weeks   single week

1999-00   $1,187,133,987       2,411       $26,944,135
1998-99    1,299,539,195       2,587        29,417,484
1997-98    1,351,403,718       2,716        33,154,946
1996-97    1,252,306,752       2,698        31,877,492
1995-96    1,198,400,658       2,513        31,244,840
1994-95    1,100,883,957       2,428        27,938,475
1993-94    1,043,741,612       2,411        26,313,727
1992-93      948,319,626       2,386        23,679,060
1991-92      795,080,960       2,072        17,610,236
1990-91      717,424,187       2,122        16,064,259
1989-90      650,473,674       2,006        17,481,485
1988-89      517,599,922       1,966        13,291,848
1987-88      476,469,439       2,007        12,249,757
1986-87      431,527,064       1,932        10,709,026
1985-86      426,236,764       2,032         9,699,824
1984-85      433,965,610       2,055        10,712,442
1983-84      432,657,447       2,176        10,094,356
1982-83      387,447,602       2,249        10,202,403
1981-82      470,765,900       2,778        11,969,449
1980-81      413,403,026       2,888        10,008,949

          No. of shows   Week
Season     that week     ended

1999-00        50        1/16/00
1998-99        58        3/21/99
1997-98        57        1/4/98
1996-97        52        12/29/96
1995-96        52        12/31/95
1994-95        50        1/1/95
1993-94        51        1/2/94
1992-93        48        1/3/93
1991-92        40        6/23/91
1990-91        43        12/30/90
1989-90        43        12/31/89
1988-89        41        1/1/89
1987-88        45        1/3/88
1986-87        49        4/26/87
1985-86        50        3/30/86
1984-85        45        4/14/85
1983-84        48        4/8/84
1982-83        46        1/2/83
1981-82        58        1/3/82
1980-81        56        1/4/81
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Title Annotation:box office returns
Author:ISHERWOOD, CHARLES
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 5, 2000
Words:3253
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